Jambalaya, as a word, literally means “mish-mash” in an old dialect spoken by people from Provence, France. So how did it come to stand for this delicious bayou classic? A lot like the dish of Jambalaya itself, Louisiana comprises a blend of cultures. Some of the first Europeans to settle in the area were the French, who came by way of what’s now northeast Canada and Maine, previously known as Acadia. As the Acadians settled and their unique French patois slurred their identity into “Cajuns,” settlers from Spain also began to arrive and make themselves at home. Both of these populations brought with them enslaved people who carried their West African culinary traditions with them. Although slavery is a tragic part of American history, it’s impossible to ignore the huge influence that West African people had in creating the flavors of Creole cooking, something that’s both uniquely American and infinitely delicious.
In Jambalaya, this beautiful blend of flavors typically begins with some kind of sausage. Smoked sausage like Andouille imparts a rich depth of flavor and a hint of heat, but boudin sausage is a little milder and just as good. Next, recipes include some kind of pork or chicken, followed by some kind of seafood, typically shrimp or crawfish. This is the kind of dish that’s never the same twice, because it’s the perfect meal for making opportunistically, using what you have in your fridge or freezer on any given day.